Mississippi River black crappie, near Lacrosse, Wisconsin, are pre-spawn and fiesty in May. They’ll hit typical baits but this Wisconsin crappie liked a small Rebel crawfish crank. (Photo: Anthony Larson)
Mississippi River Crappie in LaCrosse, Wisconsin
In May Mississippi River crappie near LaCrosse, Wisconsin are ready and willing to eat.
by Tim Huffman
LaCrosse, Wisconsin is a beautiful town of 51,000 located on the western edge of the state. One of its borders is the Mississippi River, a river that is much prettier and tamed up north compared to the south. Walleye is king, but other species, including crappie, are abundant.
Avid fisherman, freelance writer and photographer and former fishing guide, Anthony Larson, says the area is a sportsman’s paradise with 120 species of fish available.
“May is a prime month for crappie,” says Larson. “They are pre-spawn and moving up into shallower water, usually along the weedlines. The fish are very active, making it possible to have an amazing fishing trip.”
He says the Mississippi River runs along the town with good fishing for miles each direction. The river has crappie, especially near LaCrosse, but the key on the river is to find dead water, meaning very little current. Larson says there are many places along the river for crappie to find protection from the current.
“Current breaks, or anywhere there is a transition area, is a good place to cast. They can be in deeper water but are likely headed into the shallow water. It’s important to find their depth so the presentation can be made to the right depth.
“We usually cast for crappie. One setup is a 1/32-ounce jig, tipped with a minnow and run under a slip-bobber set to the correct depth. Also, casting a twister tail plastic jig or tiny crankbait, like a Rebel Crawdad, is good for catching crappie.”
For neutral crappie, he recommends presentations with very little bait movement, allowing the minnow to do its job. Aggressive presentations are best when the fish are feeding aggressively. Bait movement is based upon the mood of the crappie.
When asked about a tip for a newcomer in search of river crappie, he said to keep an open mind. Let the fish show you what they want and how they want it. He catches fish on top with a popper and float when crappie are sucking bugs off the top of the water, usually happening very early in the morning or late in the evening.
However, most of the time crappie are deeper, so electronics is very important to find crappie and balls of baitfish. Seeing bait means predators will be there, too.
“You don’t see the crowding you see in some places. The word might get out of a specific place that is hot and there will be boats, but in general, the Mississippi River has so many miles of water that crowding usually isn’t an issue. The boats you do see on the river are often chasing one of the other species like walleye.
“The LaCrosse area is a great crappie section of the river. Plus, there are so many nearby lakes around, like Onalaska and others, where crappie can be caught. I’m guessing there are 30 boat launches within a short drive. And the fishing is good enough a fisherman who can find them will have no problem catching a limit. On the river, the limit is 15 for crappie, 15 for perch, 15 for bluegill and 10 for white bass.”
Notes: Average May temperatures are 50 and 68 degrees with 11 days of rain. For no-boat fishing, many areas along the river offer good access. Also, the Best Dam Fishing Float allows fishing from a barge with t-shaped docks for family, handicap accessible fishing and has fishing gear for rent, drinks and snacks.
ABOUT THE TOWN
LaCrosse was using the river for commerce in the early 1800’s. It was a fur trading post and settlement. The railroad arrived in 1858 bringing more people and business to the area. Riverboat and railroad workers travelling through opened huge markets for alcohol, brothels and hotels. It was a rough town but the city grew and the timber and lumber industry strived using the river for transporting.
By 1912, the area became known as an education center featuring three colleges. It became more civil but still used the river and rails for commerce.
Today the area is a mixture of historical and modern buildings. It has a rich history and is a pleasant place to visit. The area is known for many small, local breweries along with many activities to keep families busy.
THINGS TO DO
Take in a May event: MidWest Music Fest on May 3-4; 17-18 and the Driftless Outdoor Show 17-18.
Drive the 250-mile Wisconsin Great River Road Scenic Drive along the Mississippi River.
Enjoy the Craft Beverage Trail, comprised of 13 breweries, wineries and distillers. Maps for the tour are available.
Visit Grandad Bluff overlook for a bird’s-eye view of LaCrosse, the Mississippi River and a portion of three states, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Also visit the Children’s Museum, LaCrosse Queen Riverboat, Riverside Park and Rainbow Ridge Farms.
Do a little history research on Cadwallander Colden Washburn to learn about General Mills and Gold Metal Flour, and visit his grave in LaCrosse.
No trip is complete without good food. Fisherman-recommended spots are the North Country Steak Buffet and Buzzard Billy’s Flying Carp Café. My wife and I highly recommend the Pearl Ice Cream Parlor, a fun, authentic historic experience with fountain sodas, rich malts and homemade ice cream.
(Tim Huffman has specialized in crappie fishing writing and photography since 1988. He is currently the Editor/Senior Writer for Crappie Masters Magazine, freelance contributor to four magazines, book author and Senior Writer for CrappieNow Digital Magazine.)